The country, from its business to the setting to also its principle of time, was profoundly altered after the perfect of the railroad\"s 1,776 mile of track.

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The country, from its business to the atmosphere to even its principle of time, was profoundly changed after the completion of the railroad\"s 1,776 mile of track.

There was a time when traveling indigenous the East coast to the West coastline meant riding for months in a horse-drawn wagon or stagecoach, or sailing southward to Panama and also then crossing the Isthmus to board one more ship for a trip up the other coast. Yet that all changed on may 10, 1869, once railroad baron Leland Stanford whacked in a ceremonial gold spike to mark the joining together of the tracks of the main Pacific Railroad and also the Union Pacific railroad in Promontory, Utah, to form the transcontinental railroad. The brand-new rail link eventually do it possible to take trip in a train car from new York to san Francisco in just a week’s time.

Some 21,000 workers—from Irish-American Civil war veterans, freed slaves and Mormon pioneers to Chinese laborers—had been recruited to perform the hard and often dangerous occupational of laying the 1,776 miles of track. Through one estimate, the job cost about $60 million, around $1.2 exchange rate in today’s money, though other sources put the amount even higher.

While the railroad's construction was a mammoth undertaking, its effects on the country were same profound. Right here are some of the methods that the first transcontinental railroad—and the countless other transcontinental present that adhered to it—changed America.


Map the the transcontinental path of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad and also its connections, circa 1883. 

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1. The made the western U.S. Much more important. 

“What the transcontinental railroad did was lug the West into the world, and also the human being into the West,” defines James P. Ronda, a retired university of Tulsa professor and also co-author, with Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes, the The West the Railroads Made. In particular, it assisted turn California indigenous a once-isolated ar to a major economic and also political force, and also helped result in the state’s rapid growth.

2. It made commerce feasible on a substantial scale. 

By 1880, the transcontinental rail was transferring $50 million precious of freight each year. In enhancement to carrying western food crops and raw materials to East coastline markets and manufactured products from East coastline cities to the West Coast, the railroad additionally facilitated global trade.

The very first freight train to take trip eastward indigenous California lugged a load of Japanese tea. “The Constitution noted the legal structure for a single national sector for profession goods; the transcontinental railroad provided the physics framework,” defines Henry W. Brands, a professor in ~ the university of Texas at Austin, and author the Dreams that El Dorado: A of the American West. “Together they provided the United claims the solitary largest industry in the world, which provided the basis for the rapid growth of American market and agriculture to the point where the U.S. By the 1890s had actually the most powerful economy top top the planet.”


3. The made travel much more affordable. 

In the 1860s, a six-month stagecoach trip throughout the U.S. Cost $1,000 (about $20,000 in today’s dollars), according to the college of Houston’s Digital website. But once the railroad to be built, the expense of a coast-to-coast trip came to be 85 percent much less expensive. That made it feasible for american to visit far-off locales that formerly they can only have actually heard about.

4. It changed where american lived. 

During the railroad’s construction, many temporary “hell ~ above wheels” towns of tents and also wooden shacks sprung up along the route to provide living quarters for workers. Many of them eventually disappeared, but others, such as Laramie, Wyoming, evolved into communities that listed rail terminals and repair facilities. Additionally, around 7,000 cities and towns across the country started as Union Pacific depots and water stops. And, as Ronda notes, the very first transcontinental railroad and also the other lines that followed made it basic for immigrant to spread throughout the nation. “People come throughout the Atlantic top top ships, gain on trains, and also end up in places such as western Nebraska,” that says.

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5. It changed Americans’ ide of reality. 

In an 1872 article, naturalist man Muir created that the transcontinental railroad “annihilated” time and also space. As Ronda explains, it changed the means that human being viewed distances. “When you’re walking or riding a horse, you suffer the world one way, yet when you’re sit in a rail car, you view it differently,” that says. “In the West, where the distances are therefore great, the railroad lugged near and far closer together.” The rail schedules also helped to press the United states into transforming how it marked time, bring about the fostering of standard time area in 1883.